My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

They were wrong again

The weather forecast for Sunday had been cool and rainy, but I’m getting to be a pretty good short-term weather forecaster in my own way. By using the various weather maps in motion that are available online, I could tell that the predicted rain wouldn’t arrive until mid-afternoon at the earliest, and that the bulk of the rain would pass to the north of either my home area, or the Muskegon area. In the meantime, there would be sun or only thin clouds overhead, good conditions for photography. So, I headed over to Muskegon for another fun-filled day of chasing birds mostly, but a couple of other subjects forced me to shoot photos of them as well.

I’m going to start with a photo that I am personally very happy to have gotten, even though it isn’t that great of an image.

Brown thrasher singing

Brown thrasher singing

That photo is an example of one that you can only get in the spring, as brown thrashers spend most of their time in the densest thickets that they can find, and this is the view that you normally have of one, if you can see them at all.

Brown thrasher

Brown thrasher

Brown thrashers are related to mockingbirds and catbirds, and all three species mimic the songs of other species of birds. All three species also prefer to spend their time close to the ground and in thickets where it’s difficult to spot them, which is made even more difficult because they are also very wary and shy birds. So, getting a photo of one of the thrashers out in the open is a rare thing, at least for me.

The one in the first photo was so intent on calling up a possible mate that it stayed perched there long enough for me to shoot a good many photos, and to also try shooting a video to capture its song.

But, if I’m going to try to record birds as they sing, I need a better microphone, one that is more directional, so that I don’t get all the background noise as I’m recording. I have one picked out, it’s just a matter of time and money before I purchase it, there are other things that I would like to have before I make that purchase.

Anyway, I got to the wastewater facility before dawn, hoping for a good sunrise to photograph. It was a subtlety beautiful sunrise, but I’m not going to post the photo that I shot, as it looks very similar to others that I have recently posted. Instead, I’ll bore you with a couple of my ducks at sunrise photos. I knew that in the very low light that I’d never be able to freeze the wings of this lesser scaup as it dried them, but I was going for a more artistic photo.

Lesser scaup at sunrise

Lesser scaup at sunrise

I’m still working on getting these photos right…

Ruddy duck at sunrise

Ruddy duck at sunrise

…as I can’t decide whether to go for the silhouette as in that last one…

Ruddy duck at sunrise

Ruddy duck at sunrise

…or to get some of the color of the subject as in that one. I’d love to find a duck that would hold perfectly still so that I could experiment with HDR images, but that’s not likely to happen. Still, I love the colors on the water, and the ripples, as the water reflects the colors of dawn.

As you can see, there was some color to the dawn, but it wasn’t until later that the light became truly magical. Remembering Michael Melford’s advice to shoot whatever you see when you get magic light, I rushed to find some sort of appealing composition to shoot, this was my first attempt.

Lone tree just after sunrise

Lone tree just after sunrise

If only I had noticed the tire tracks before I had shot this one, oh well. The good light held for a while, and these two are my other attempts to capture it.

Lone silo at dawn

Lone silo at dawn

 

Lone silo at dawn 2

Lone silo at dawn 2

I probably should have chosen a focal length somewhere between those two photos, but I had one more shot at capturing the scene.

Late dawn over a man-made creek

Late dawn over a man-made creek

I really wished that I had been at a more photogenic area than the flat plain that surrounds the Muskegon County wastewater facility, but that’s the way it goes, and if I had been somewhere else, I would have missed some other events that only happen in the spring.

Just as I was trying to get a good portrait of a bufflehead a few weeks ago, and those efforts were foiled by the bufflehead deciding to engage in their mating displays, I was going to go for a portrait of a lesser scaup, when four males decided to “court” the lone female with them.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

Again, I had the 2X tele-converter behind the 300 mm lens, so I had a good deal of difficulty keeping up with the scaup, keeping them in focus, and dealing with the short depth of field at 600 mm.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

But, I think that I did a fair job of it.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

Capturing the crazed look in the eyes and on the faces of the males.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

And, even getting the colors of the male’s heads in some of the photos.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

 

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

It was really quite humorous to watch the action unfold.

Lesser scaup mating activity

Lesser scaup mating activity

In a way, it may be a good thing that what were supposed to be opportunities to shoot portraits turned into action shots instead, I’m getting better at following the action at 600 mm, and the photos are turning out better as well. I never thought of the combination of the 300 mm lens and 2X extender as being suitable for action photography, but it did quite well with the scaup. But then, they move a little slower than the bufflehead do, so I will still have to be careful in my decisions to use that combination. I suppose that it’s like anything else when it comes to photography, the more that you use it, the better the results are.

I shot a few other photos of the waterfowl, but I tried to limit myself since I’ve been posting quite a few of them lately. I finally was able to get the purple sheen on the head of a blue-winged teal to show in some of my images, and wouldn’t you know…

Male blue-winged teal

Male blue-winged teal

…the rest of him was behind a rock.

Male blue-winged teal

Male blue-winged teal

In these two images, the coot on the left was acting as if it were looking to share the other coot’s food…

American coots

American coots

…and when that didn’t work, it was eyeing another coot’s food, that didn’t work either. It ended up having to dive for its own lunch.

American coots

American coots

I still need a better photo of a gadwall that really captures the patterns in their feathers, but I think that this is my best so far.

Male gadwall

Male gadwall

More shorebirds are arriving, there were plenty of yellowlegs, both greater and lesser, but I didn’t shoot any photos since I couldn’t get very close to them. I did catch a spotted sandpiper…

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

 

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

…and, I did a flock shot of these dunlin to mark their arrival.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Sorry about the weird composition, I cropped out some of the plumbing in the lower part of the frame.

It’s too bad that gulls aren’t very popular subjects for photos, as they are the family of birds that I do best with, whether they are flying…

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

…or if I’m shooting portraits.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

Maybe it’s because they look so angry all the time…

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

…that they aren’t more popular.

Ring-billed gull

Ring-billed gull

They still make great practice subjects though.

The swallows have returned also, I tried for some good shots, these are the best that I could do.

Female tree swallow

Female tree swallow

I could tell that I was watching a mated pair, otherwise I couldn’t tell which was the female, and which was the male…

Male tree swallow

Male tree swallow

…and, I could only tell the male because he began to sing as his mate worked on the nest.

Male tree swallow singing

Male tree swallow singing

He sure was a happy little guy!

Male tree swallow singing

Male tree swallow singing

I decided that it was time to move on, so I headed up to the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area in hopes of getting better photos of swallows, or better still, bluebirds. I didn’t find either, or any other birds to speak of, my only photos from that portion of the day are these two not so good images of a violet.

Violet

Violet

 

Violet

Violet

It’s funny, the last two years that has been a great place for birds, but I’m having trouble finding any birds there this year. It may be because of the time of day, I’ll have to try that spot earlier in the day soon.

That’s because my next stop was the Lane’s Landing section for the Muskegon SGA again, and a saw only a few birds there also. I did see a particularly pretty dandelion though.

Dandelion

Dandelion

And, one of the few birds that I did see was a northern flicker, which just happened to fly right past me for these two photos.

Northern flicker in flight

Northern flicker in flight

 

Northern flicker in flight

Northern flicker in flight

This was the most frustrating part of the day. I could hear sandhill cranes, the unmistakable call of an American bittern, a sora, and a Virginia rail, but never caught so much as a glimpse of any of them. I did find this turtle crossing the trail…

Map? turtle

Map turtle

…as well as this garter snake.

Garter snake

Garter snake

I should have gotten down to the snake’s level, but it was a warm day, and it seemed to be in a hurry, trailing prey of some type, so it never stopped for very long. Snakes smell with their tongues as well as their nostrils, and this one …

Garter snake

Garter snake

…definitely looked to be trailing something as it tasted the trail that whatever it was following had left.

I see that I’m up to my self-imposed limit on photos, I guess that I’ll have to break that rule, for I have a few more photos to go.

Song sparrow singing

Song sparrow singing

I had planned on stopping at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, but it was getting to be mid-afternoon, so I went the Bear Lake channel instead.

Of course, every one has seen a male mallard…

Male mallard

Male mallard

But, have you ever seen a mallard do a faceplant?

Male mallard faceplant

Male mallard faceplant

Things are beginning to green up around here, which means that it’s time for me to spend more time looking for songbirds, and less time on the waterfowl. The weather forecast for this weekend leaves much to be desired, but it was the same for the last two weekends, and we had at least half a day of great weather despite the gloomy forecasts. I hope that the same thing happen this weekend as well.

Instead of starting the day at the wastewater facility, I’ll be starting out at Lane’s Landing, both for the birds, and the possibility of a good landscape photo or two. Maybe a better idea would be to try Duck Lake State Park a few more times before the crowds of summer make that an impossible place for birding.

Anyway, there’s just a few days left until I begin my vacation, and I’m really looking forward to this one. I’ll be spending a week, or most of it, up north in search of migrating birds, new places to see and photograph, along with returning to some of my favorite places in Michigan. I just hope that the weather is seasonable for the week that I have off from work, not too hot or too cold, and with mostly dry weather.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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38 responses

  1. Your pictures are truly excellent, I couldn’t pick out a favourite. I love the little video of the brown thrasher and the clever pictures you shot. It was a pleasure to slowly scroll through all the treats.

    April 28, 2016 at 3:45 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I need to work on my skills shooting videos, and I should use my tripod, if a bird will sit still long enough to set it up.

      April 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm

  2. Love the gull portraits!

    April 28, 2016 at 4:15 am

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      April 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm

  3. Terrific series of photographs!

    April 28, 2016 at 8:00 am

    • Thank you very much Belinda!

      April 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm

  4. Wow, Jerry, I’ve been off WP for a few weeks only to come back to your amazing waterfowl portraits! Especially like the golden ones and the painterly work you are doing with landscapes. Awesome!

    April 28, 2016 at 8:30 am

    • Thank you very much Lori! I keep plugging away at photography and one of these days I’ll get it right.

      April 28, 2016 at 2:35 pm

  5. Beautiful. This is a wonderful way for me to learn more about birds!

    April 28, 2016 at 10:31 am

    • Thank you very much! Photographing birds is a great way to learn more about them, for I spend a good deal of time observing the birds while shooting just a few photos of them.

      April 28, 2016 at 2:36 pm

  6. What a delightful post filled with witty observations and amazing photos. Every time I scrolled down to view a picture, I thought it was the best, but they all turned out to be “best”! πŸ™‚

    April 28, 2016 at 10:37 am

    • Thank you very much! You’re too kind, these were good, not great.

      April 28, 2016 at 2:37 pm

  7. I liked the video of Brown thrasher singing. Interesting bird.

    I enjoy very much your photos, especially those teals and gulls portraits.

    April 28, 2016 at 11:12 am

    • Thank you very much Cornell! I love brown thrashers, I just wish that I saw and heard them more often.

      April 28, 2016 at 2:39 pm

  8. Perhaps gulls aren’t so well loved because, much like pigeons they have a tendency to poop on cars (or even people)! They’re also very plentiful, so great for practice, but lacking that thrill of catching a vermillion flycatcher… πŸ™‚

    April 28, 2016 at 11:41 am

    • Thank you very much Gunta! Well, no one has asked me about a vermilion flycatcher yet, but when I tell people that I’m trying to photograph every species of bird, the one that every one asks about are eagles.

      April 28, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      • I’m afraid that eagles are getting a bit commonplace in my opinion. I’m NEVER seen a Vermillion before this last trip -actually didn’t even realize those little gems existed.

        April 28, 2016 at 5:38 pm

  9. Marianne

    Amazing photos and video-love them all. Happy Holidays!

    April 28, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    • Thank you very much Marianne!

      April 28, 2016 at 2:40 pm

  10. I love the colors of dawn you get on the water. The light was good for the lone tree and silo too.
    That ring billed duck actually does look angry, so you might be onto something.
    I like the shots of the singing sparrow and the reptiles. I haven’t seen a snake yet but I did see a spotted salamander today.
    It’s hard to believe it’s nearly May already. I hope you’ll get some decent weather for your vacation! It’s been cool here, but dry too.

    April 28, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I’ve been lucking out and getting half a day of nice weather each of the last three weekends, which is why my photos have been what they were. We’re way above average for rainfall since the first of the year, so things are beginning to get green around here. Some sun and warmer weather would help that along a lot.

      April 29, 2016 at 12:13 am

  11. I thought that the sound recording wasn’t bad at all. I really enjoyed the Northern Flicker in flight.

    April 28, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom!

      April 29, 2016 at 12:07 am

  12. Hi Jerry – there’s really a lot to like in this post.

    First, I can hardly believe that the first two photos are the same species. It really points out some of the difficulties you have in getting some of the terrific shots that you do manage to get.

    I’m intrigued by the idea of adding more audio to your bird shots. Can’t tell you how often I hear a bird, and wish I had the ability to identify it. I’ve looked for android aps that would help me out with this but can find only the most basic things. I think the bird outside the Fireball today was a meadowlark of some kind (guessing from its glorious singing), but I’m not sure. We also had three Western Bluebirds sitting on our picnic table – that’s a first for me.

    Also, I’m not sure what you don’t like about your sunrise/ruddy duck photos. Love the first one – the second one with more ripples is a bit busy for me. But the shapes and colors are fantastic.

    We’re headed into snow – that just seems wrong somehow. Weird to be heading to Michigan for good weather??

    April 29, 2016 at 12:56 am

    • Thank you very much Judy! While it’s easy to get good photos of some species of birds, there are others that are very difficult because they stay hidden so much of the time, and it’s nice that some one notices that. πŸ˜‰

      You may find a guide to the songs of birds here https://www.allaboutbirds.org/ they have an app for just about everything bird related.

      I would like to shoot more videos of the birds while they are singing, as I find that their songs are a huge part of the outdoor experience, at least for me.

      I can’t put my finger on what it is about the sunrise photos of the ducks that I’m not happy with either, but one of these days, I’ll get the shot that I really want, then I’ll know.

      It’s almost cold enough for snow here, the windchill was 28 degrees with rain at noon yesterday, not pleasant at all. So, I hope that you leave that nasty white stuff out there where it is now, and bring some nice weather this way. πŸ™‚

      April 29, 2016 at 1:12 am

  13. Great photos :-). I found the lesser scaup chase particularly entertaining. Thanks for sharing!

    April 29, 2016 at 1:14 am

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad that you liked them.

      April 29, 2016 at 1:19 am

  14. A fantastic post Jerry, full of really great shots. I loved the audio video of the brown thrasher – bird-song is so joy-inducing. I like all the dawn shots – the light is beautiful and I do like the detail of the gull shots though it does look very bad-tempered. I love watching gulls fly; the power in their stiff wing-beats is so apparent though they seem to expend little effort.

    April 30, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! The world would seem a less friendly place without the songs of the birds to brighten up our day. I’ve been thinking of doing a post on how you can identify birds by the way that they flap their wings, but it would take me forever to get good enough videos for a post like that.

      April 30, 2016 at 7:16 pm

      • That would be a fascinating project because that is one sure way of identifying what family a bird comes from.

        April 30, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      • Thanks again Clare! If I were better at shooting videos I’d give that project a try, but until then, I’ll have to be content to admire how birds in flight look to me as I watch them.

        May 1, 2016 at 3:15 am

  15. Quite the variety from6this outing
    Love the thrasher and the golden water surface. Best, Babsje

    April 30, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    • Thank you very much Babsje!

      April 30, 2016 at 7:13 pm

  16. Those are amazing photos, Jerry. The ring-billed gull is very striking! And you have Coot photos, one of my favorites. I like the term “magic light”.

    April 30, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    • Thank you very much Lavinia!

      April 30, 2016 at 7:13 pm

  17. Your photography is truly beautiful.

    May 2, 2016 at 8:27 am

    • Thank you very much Cynthia!

      May 2, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      • You’re very welcome.

        May 2, 2016 at 3:40 pm